Working, eating, bonding

Written by Lisa Birkley

I am addicted to conferences. I love to attend the workshops and conventions, where I can learn about new ideas for yearbooks, software and writing. I always leave with something I can use in my classroom. However, when I get back into my routine of grading papers and preparing lessons, my new-found ideas get lost in the shuffle.

One idea that kept coming up over and over at the conferences was an after-school work night. Teachers from across the country would talk about the experience of gathering the students for a Work Late night and the benefits the staff received. They would have dinner together in the classroom, work on the yearbook and get a great deal of work completed.

Despite all the glowing reports, I was resistant to this idea. My thinking was that I already spend so much of my time on the yearbook and on my students, I really did not want to commit another block of my time.

This past March I could see that my staff was falling behind. We were missing deadlines on all our publications. I met with the editors and we decided to try “Work Late Wednesday.” We met in my classroom around 4:30 p.m. and worked until 6 p.m., then took a dinner break. After dinner and some very interesting conversations, we were back to work until around 8 p.m. The results were spectacular.

The expected result was meeting our deadlines, which was the initial motivating factor. However, some very unexpected things happened as well. The first Work Late night, I had my editors and just a few of the staff with me. By the fourth week I had more than 15 staffers working with us. The students came to look forward to each Wednesday. Our dinners got more extravagant with donations from the students. We truly became a tight group. I was able to give students more instructions in a relaxed atmosphere. We were more creative, bouncing ideas off of one another. I even brought my six-year-old daughter a few times and she got to know the staff better as well.

I am now a believer. Our Work Late Wednesday will be part of the yearbook program starting at the beginning of this school year. It did take a leap of faith on my part, but the extra time spent with the staff has been well worth the effort.

Lisa Birkley

Lisa Birkley advised 14 high school yearbooks before becoming the journalism teacher and yearbook adviser at Highlands Middle School in Fort Thomas, Ky., because “I wanted to go back to those crazy, confused and chaotic children with whom I started my teaching career.” She was the first high school teacher to receive the Distinguished Teaching in Journalism Award from the Society of Professional Journalists in 2005.